The rise in custom curriculum publishing gives schools more flexibility as they work to prepare students for college or a career, advocates say.

In a new trend made possible by advancements in digital publishing, a number of K-12 schools and colleges are working with textbook publishers to create customized curriculum content that meets their own unique needs.

The rise in custom curriculum publishing gives schools more flexibility as they work to prepare students for college or a career, advocates say.

The Sweetwater Union High School District of Southern California, for example, has partnered with education publisher Pearson on a project to boost the college and workforce readiness of its graduates. Together, they created a custom program to support the district’s seventh through 12th graders in meeting their literature goals.

Pearson collaborated with literacy leaders in the district to develop affordable, customized texts that enabled students to interact with relevant, real-world readings in the core curriculum.

“Sweetwater wanted to make sure students could make the connection between content and their lives, so we created tailored content that included literature, newspapers, ads, editorial content, short stories, workplace documents, poems, and more,” says Don Kilburn, CEO of Pearson Learning Solutions. “They didn’t want just a traditional approach, with literature and novels. They wanted to be involved in a very contemporary and new set of materials.”

Creating their own courses by finding the newspapers, magazines, and other contemporary content would have been expensive and time-consuming, Kilburn says. By working with Pearson to create a custom publishing solution, the district was able to “improve the relevance of texts to our students’ interests and needs,” says Jennifer Currie, a teacher for Sweetwater’s academic support team.

Sweetwater’s approach also included an extensive toolkit for teachers that aligned with the content provided for students. The entire custom curriculum was built around six writing skills, defined by the district, and associated with college-ready standards.

Pearson’s custom content can be delivered via a learning management system, the web, on CD, in PowerPoint slides, or via other electronic files. Course components include lesson presentations, discussion questions, integrated design documentation, checklists, activities, lesson plans, syllabi, and assessments. Pearson can build upon an existing course or develop one from the ground up.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) is another company that has developed a custom publishing engine. The education publisher wanted to support school districts in teaching to the Common Core standards in a way that allowed schools to customize their own curriculum.

“Often, customization does not ripple out into all ancillary support pieces, so we wanted to address not just a student edition or a teacher edition, but a full support system of a curriculum program,” says Pattie Smith, vice president of portfolio management for HMH’s K-12 Mathematics division.

HMH worked with Lawrence Public Schools in Kansas to create a customized curriculum for more advanced students. “One reason you might want to approach custom publishing is that one size doesn’t fit all,” says the company’s Muffett Hughes, who leads the team that is implementing the curriculum in Lawrence.

Teachers in Lawrence saw a need for a special curriculum for advanced eighth grade math students. The curriculum created by HMH allows students to review eighth grade concepts but then move forward into Algebra 1, which usually is presented in ninth grade. Working through its mathematic specialist in conjunction with HMH, the district was able to pull together exactly the content that educators wanted to teach and review.

HMH offers subject matter experts like Hughes, who can work with a school district to be sure there are no gaps in the curriculum. “She can see how lessons connect with each other, what the learning curve is, so she can point out if they’re missing something,” says Smith. “Then, she can make sure it aligns with state standards.”

Another benefit of building a custom curriculum is that it comes from the heart of student-centered needs. Districts can identify certain student populations that have specific learning needs, like accelerated learners as in Lawrence, Kansas.

In another example, District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colo., saw a need for high school students who were preparing to take their SATs and ACTs, says Leigh Ann Garcia, director of portfolio management for HMH.

Educators there wanted students taking Algebra II to be able to review the topics they had learned in prerequisite courses to ensure they could succeed on the SAT and ACT exams. “Teachers everywhere are teaching Algebra II, but then they have to stop and pull from other areas—a teacher down the hall, the internet—to teach students the review stuff. Now, they don’t have to go searching for the review information,” says Garcia.

Schools can get HMH’s custom curriculum materials in print or online, or both. The materials always include assessment resources and a final review, says Garcia.